Before I Wake
Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep; If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Childhood bedtime prayer
In the bedtime prayer of my childhood, I prayed, “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” My understanding was that dying before I woke meant dying in my sleep, consistent with how the reference is commonly understood. Similarly, dying in my sleep meant dying in bed as my body rested for the night. Dying in our sleep is often professed to be a preferred way to die as it is considered synonymous with experiencing a peaceful, as opposed to an extended and painful death.
There is another way to think about the line before I wake, however, as well as what it means to sleep. I wish to consider alternate interpretations of these common references, particularly in the context of spiritual awakening, or awakening to our in-the-image-of-God nature. Many authors, including Ken Wilber and Richard Rohr, identify four stages of spiritual awakening, although they are not always presented in the same order nor do they always include all four. The stages are cleaning up, showing up, growing up, and waking up. They are intended to give names to common gates we pass through on our way toward enlightenment, wholeness, unity, sainthood, awakening, nirvana, or whatever name we wish to give our growth toward becoming a more fully mature, complete spiritual and human being. Many Christians believe we go through this life and enter heaven (hopefully) when we die, and that is all that is required of our life in God. Under that line of thinking, the sole goal in this life is to be good enough to enter heaven. On the other hand, contemplative Christians and other mystically-oriented wings of world religions believe we evolve into wholeness as opposed to dying into it. This is where the concept of reincarnation comes into play, although many consider the concept as unsubstantiated heresy. The Christian equivalent of reincarnation is that God continues working toward our completion into Oneness with the divine after we enter heaven. Jesus, however, spoke consistently of heaven as a place we enter in this life, not so much as a place to enter when we die to this life. The key point, at least for me, is that becoming One with God is a process, and to grow towards it we must clean up, show up, grow up, and wake up.
Cleaning up occurs in response to the realization that we are dirty. Just as we take a shower to wash away the accumulated dirt and sweat of the day, so we clean up to wash away the stains on our emotional and spiritual natures. Indeed, this is what baptism symbolizes – the washing away of our sins or our old self to become a new, clean creation in Christ. Cleaning up is also one meaning behind repentance – to turn away from that in our former life that keeps us from entering a new life. Striving to become more spiritually aware helps us realize how much we need to clean up. Ken Wilber points out that much of what needs to be cleaned in us involves unresolved, subconscious material that we have repressed over the years. Psychologists believe that much of what we do today that we do not understand or do not like can be directly traced to repressed material residing in our subconscious – unresolved issues with parents, unmet needs, troubling issues that have had no closure. Rohr calls this shadow material because it can be considered our dark side. It is largely invisible to us (not so much to others) because it does not fit with the image we try to project and want to believe about ourselves. The work of cleaning up is not as easy as jumping in the shower, however. All of us have some subconscious cleaning to do. For most of us, that work takes years or lifetimes, during and/or beyond this earthly life.
Cleaning up is one step on the journey of dying before we die and seeking to enter the kingdom of heaven before our physical death, to use Jesus’ verbiage. It is a way available to us here and now – here on earth and now, as in today. When Jesus encourages us to repent, he encourages us to clean up our lives in order to become more capable of faithfully following him and manifesting the image of God from which we were created.
This is the 49th in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.
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